Revolution #161, April 12, 2009

The System’s Legal Maneuvering in the Oscar Grant Case—And Two Vast Discrepancies

The Courts and police used the occasion of the deaths of the police killed in a shootout on March 21 to put off the preliminary hearing for the BART cop who killed Oscar Grant for two months.

The Monday, March 23 hearing was supposed to determine what, if any, charges killer-cop Johannes Mehserle would face, and to set a trial date. Instead, this “hearing” provided a textbook example of how the whole legal system works to protect or exculpate killer cops—in this case the Judge openly helping the killer-cop’s lawyer come up with an excuse to postpone the hearing.

Michael Rains, Mehserle’s attorney first argued the hearing should be postponed because he thought there would be “violent” protests during the trial, and now the Oakland police were “emotionally scarred,” and did not have the resources to deal with the violence of the protests.

The judge said that he could not postpone the case just because of protests, but suggested another line of argument for postponement to the cop’s lawyer. With sympathy, the judge noted that Rains had personally known the deceased officers, that he represented the Police Officers Association, and because of all this perhaps he had not been able to prepare for the hearing. Rains immediately picked up on the judge’s “suggestion,” and quickly agreed that his thoughts had been scattered, that he did not want to “stumble and fumble.” The judge then proclaimed that Mehserle’s rights needed to be protected, that he deserved Rains’s full attention, and that the hearing should be postponed until May 18.

The district attorney—who is supposedly representing “the people” and prosecuting the killer-cop—did not oppose this continuance. (Continuances are often used to delay and drag out legal proceedings in hopes that the masses anger and vigilance is eroded and the system has more political freedom to allow murdering cops to walk or escape with minor punishment.)

Oscar Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, bitterly told the press, “I cry every night for my son. It's unfair that we have to wait. We're hurting and we are in pain.”

Two Vast Discrepancies

Wanda Johnson’s words, the testimony heard at the People’s Tribunal, and reams of other evidence points to the vast discrepancy between the number of instances in which the people are killed by the police, compared to the other way around.

And the legal system’s treatment of killer-cop Mehserle points to another even great disparity: that between the vigorous prosecution—even execution—of people who kill police versus the incredibly small number of situations in which killer-cops—including those guilty of wanton, unprovoked murder of unarmed people—are actually prosecuted, let alone prosecuted vigorously and "to the full extent of the law," convicted and punished accordingly.

Recent history shows that even the most blatant police murders are seldom punished. No charges against the Riverside, California cops were ever filed in the case of Tyisha Miller who died in her car in a hail of 27 shots. Most cops get away with killings and are never charged. The cops who fired 50 shots and killed Sean Bell on the eve of his wedding were found “not guilty.” And so were the killers who shot Amadou Diallo 41 times while he was reaching for his wallet.

Thousands of people have been shot, tasered, pepper-sprayed or beaten to death by law enforcement. The Justice Department admits that during the three years from 2003 through 2005 police in the U.S. killed, on average, a person every day. Yet in the last 15 years, according to recent research by the San Francisco Chronicle, only 6 cops were even charged with murder—and none convicted!

In fact, Mehserle would most certainly never have even been charged for murdering Oscar Grant if it had not been caught on videotape and if the people in Oakland had not risen up against this towering crime.

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